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A picture of the beneficent Lord Black

From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Conrad Black is a deeply spiritual man who loved his parents, cared for his children, helped save Canada and is gracious, kind, sincere, generous, modest and humble toward everyone he meets.

That's the portrait his lawyers offered to a Chicago court yesterday in a 53-page document that argued the former media baron played a minor role in the fraud at Hollinger International Inc. and has suffered so much already he should receive, at most, a two-year jail sentence.

Lord Black, 63, "is a person with a deep reservoir of kindness and generosity consistently exhibited to people of all stations in life and an individual who has made significant contributions to society," the filing says. "He has watched his family suffer untold agonies at the hands of the savage and reckless press."

His lawyers have gathered roughly 100 letters of support from a variety of people including former prime minister Brian Mulroney, rock star Elton John, broadcaster Rush Limbaugh, Nobel Prize winner John Polanyi as well as business tycoons Paul Desmarais, Gerald Schwartz and his wife Heather Reisman.

Several current and former journalists have also sent letters including Maclean's columnist Mark Steyn, former Globe and Mail editor-in-chief William Thorsell, CBC reporter Brian Stewart, U.S. commentator William F. Buckley and publisher Mortimer Zuckerman.

Lord Black's legacy "has touched many individual lives and has made positive contributions on a global scale," the filing says. It adds that Lord Black's real persona was a far cry from the fictional portrayal of him in the media as a "money hungry elitist whose highest ambition was social advancement in the upper echelons of New York and London society."

The filing comes as Lord Black and three other former Hollinger executives prepare for a sentencing hearing on Dec. 10 in Chicago. All four were convicted of fraud in July for the diversion of millions of dollars from the Chicago-based newspaper company. Lord Black was also convicted of obstruction of justice. They all plan to appeal.

In court filings, prosecutors have described Lord Black as a liar who lined his own pockets at the expense of Hollinger shareholders and orchestrated a $32-million (U.S.) fraud. They have been pushing for a sentence of about 20 years (Lord Black's offences carry a 35-year maximum).

A presentencing report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office, which has been submitted to the judge, put the fraud at $6.1-million and recommended a far lighter sentence. The report has not been made public, but other court filings suggest it recommended a sentence of less than 10 years.

In their filing, Lord Black's lawyers challenged some of the report's conclusions. They argued the fraud amounted to less than $3-million and that Lord Black was a minor player in the scam. The amount of the fraud and Lord Black's role in it are important factors in sentencing, legal experts have said.

The filing said Lord Black's sentence should be similar to the penalty imposed on his former right-hand man, David Radler. Mr. Radler pleaded guilty to one fraud count in 2005 and testified against the others. In return he is expected to receive a 29-month jail sentence.

Lord Black's lawyers pointed to other mistakes in the presentencing report, including a quote from his daughter, Alana. The report quoted Ms. Black as describing her father as an "atypical dad." "In fact," Lord Black's lawyer says, "she described him as a 'typical dad.' "

Most of the remainder of the filing dwelt on Lord Black's personal strengths and the suffering he has already endured.

He has spent more than $30-million on legal fees, lost a $250-million fortune and watched as his two sons cope with severe health problems "that bear connection to the tribulations endured by the entire family."

"Nothing can describe much less rectify the immeasurable suffering attendant upon those realities," the filing says.

In his letter, Mr. Schwartz said Lord Black's "suffering, his financial loss and his humiliation are already recognized by everyone in the business and financial communities as a steep price already paid."

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